A TALE OF TWO KIDDIES
Both I and my friend wanted to go to heaven. (We certainly didn't want to go to hell.) So, we did what anyone would do when presented with the option of heaven or hell, we picked heaven. And it was of course explained to us that in order to go to heaven we needed to have our sins forgiven. And in order for our sins to be forgiven, we needed to ask Jesus into our hearts and ask him to forgive us. So we did. We both prayed and asked Jesus to forgive us and to come into our hearts. I was saved. I was changed. I went home and the course of my life had been set. I was now on a mission, submit to the Word of God in all things, seek to obey God in all things, and strive to love God with all my heart. I was a new
My friend asked Jesus into his heart too. He heard the same message, prayed the same prayer, and did everything that I did. From that day on, he was the same. He didn't care about God, and had no desire to serve God or please God. He didn't care what the Bible said and he simply remained the same. As time went on, he began to pursue those things which unbelievers pursue; sex, alcohol, entertainment, and a life of ease. To this very day, 30 years later, he remains exactly as he always was, without God, without faith, without repentance, without salvation. As Scripture puts it, he has always been one "who's end is destruction, who's god is his belly, and who glories in his shame, with a mind set on earthly things."
So, what's the difference? Why was I saved and my friend not? We both had the same backgrounds. We both had an average intelligence. We both drank the same Coke, heard the same message, prayed the same prayer and asked for the same forgiveness of sins. Why then was I saved and he not? Well, anyone who understands the gospel, understands that salvation comes through FAITH. It is belief in the gospel that unites us to the Savior. So the honest answer is that I believed the gospel and he didn't. I was saved through faith in what I heard. This is how everyone is saved, by grace through FAITH. He was not saved, simply because he didn't believe.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
Now those who believe that asking Jesus into one's heart is a good practice will listen to my story and say, "see, asking Jesus into your heart isn't a bad thing, you yourself were saved by asking Jesus into your heart." What many people fail to consider is that I was not saved by asking Jesus into my heart. I was saved by faith. I was saved at the first moment that I believed. and I believed when I heard. So, if we put it on a timeline, it would look like this, 1. I heard the message. 2. I believed the message as I heard it. 3. I was led to ask Jesus into my heart. 4. I went home changed.
Now when was I saved? Was I saved at point 1, 2, 3, or 4? Well, if you affirm that salvation comes through faith, then you have to say that I was saved at point 2, several minutes before I asked Jesus into my heart. So now the question arises. Why should our evangelistic neighbor have told us to ask Jesus into our heart at all? Praying that prayer didn't save me, I was already saved before I prayed it, for I believed and was saved. Praying didn't help my friend either. He didn't believe the message that was preached to him and having him repeat a prayer didn't help him to start believing. He had already decided not to believe when he was at step 2, several minutes before he was asked to pray? These details are not insignificant. Some may want to respond and say that praying the prayer didn't make me stop believing, and it didn't make my friend start believing, so no harm no foul right? No, not at all. Not if you have been paying attention to the details. Great harm had been done.
THE SAD REALITY
Thirty years have gone by and my friend is still not saved. But he thinks he is. You see, when he was a little boy someone told him that his sin could be forgiven if he would just ask Jesus into his heart. Now, when someone tries to talk to him about becoming a Christian he says, "I am a Christian, I've already asked Jesus into my heart and I know that a person can't lose his salvation so don't worry about me." Do you see how sad this makes me? He has been inoculated from the gospel of salvation through faith and he has believed a different gospel, the gospel of salvation through prayer. Unless the Lord works a miracle, he will die believing that he is saved and that his sins have been forgiven.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED?
It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and talk about how our evangelistic neighbor "should have" done things but sometimes correction needs to be given. I don't harbor any ill feelings toward him, he brought me the gospel after all. So I don't want to attack him. I'm sure that if he could go back in time and see the damage that was done that he would do it differently. But what should he have done? How could he have done it differently? Well, it seems to me that if he were focused on the Christian doctrine of salvation by Jesus through faith in the gospel, that he would not have seen some superstitious prayer as the pinnacle of what he needed to communicate that day. If he were focusing on the message of Jesus as the human-lamb that was sacrificed to appease the wrath of an angry and just God, and the need to believe upon Him as the only means of salvation and forgiveness, then his big crescendo would not have been "if you pray this prayer ask Jesus into your heart you can be saved." But instead, his highest theme would have been, "do you believe this? If you believe this gospel children then you will be saved. For God sent his son into the world not to condemn it but to save it, for God loved the world by sending his only begotten son so that whoever BELIEVES in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. So you must believe children, you must believe. And you must keep believing. Don't be like the seed that takes root and grows for a time and then withers away but keep believing until you take your very last breath. For if you believe you will be saved." But, instead of pointing us to believe his pointed us to pray. And as I mentioned earlier this prayer didn't help me any, for as he spoke the gospel to me on that hot and humid day, I believed what I heard and I was saved through my faith in the gospel. The prayer didn't help me, but it hurt my friend. It hurt him deeply, it still hurts him every passing moment because with every sand that falls through the hourglass that is his life, he continues resting secure in a false gospel, believing that salvation comes by prayer.
THE TRAGEDY THICKENS
In my own personal experience there were only two of us and 50% of the audience that day was harmed by the practice. Even if we say 20% or even as little as 10% of hearers are harmed worldwide, that's still millions of souls harmed. Parents who have (albeit unintentionally) made their children to trust not in the gospel but in a religious exercise are parents that suffer from self inflicted wounds. Think of the mothers who cry by their bedside at night praying that their child would return to Jesus, while her child feels perfectly safe because he believes that he was saved when he "asked Jesus into his heart."
THE BOTTOM LINE
It may be that you yourself have asked Jesus into your heart once. It may be that you feel safe, secure and forgiven because you did. But, are you still the same you? Did you really believe? Do you still believe? Are you still in your sin? Believe the gospel. Jesus died for sin and reigns as King of Kings. If you believe this then you have bowed your knee to him and have turned your back on sin. However, if you believe that you were saved by asking Jesus into your heart, then you have not left your sin. Who are you a new creation? Or one who's god is your belly, who enjoys shameful things, and who's mind is set on earthly things?
If you live in the Sugar Land area, we invite you to come visit Emmaus Road Church and hear a faithful and true gospel message.